Who argued "In order to be truly deserving, we must be responsible for that which makes us deserving?"

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This argument, that we, in effect, are the not the agents of our own fortune (or misfortune) is that of the philosopher Galen Strawson. Born in 1952, Strawson is Oxford-educated British philosopher and literary critic. He currently teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and is the department's Chair in Philosophy. 

Strawson has written extensively on the subjects of free will and determinism. His claims that no one actually has free will is expressed in his four-tiered argument which he calls the "Basic Argument." Those four tiers, reductively, are as follows:

  1. You do what you do, in any given situation, because of the way you are.
  2. In order to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are — at least in certain crucial mental respects.
  3. But you cannot be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all.
  4. So you cannot be ultimately responsible for what you do

So, perhaps paradoxically, in Strawson's estimation, we cannot actually be "deserving" of anything. You have no way of being "ultimately responsible" for what you do because you have no way of controlling who you are.  

This does not make you a bad or undeserving person. Strawson says, 

"In fact, free and truly responsible agents need not be moral agents; and if they are not moral agents, then they are ipso facto never truly deserving of (moral) praise or blame. Reference to the notion of desert is therefore not strictly necessary in discussion of freedom or true responsibility. At the same time it is often extremely useful, given that one is often discussing agents (ourselves) who are assumed to be moral agents."